Last weekend, we had the sad task of dealing with two patients, a cat and a dog, who both had severe kidney disease.
Despite intensive treatment, they had shown no improvement, and their owners reluctantly said goodbye.
Thankfully in these cases the decision was made easier by laboratory tests which confirmed that the patients’ organs were in irreversible decline, but often it is less clear cut, and knowing when to say goodbye to a much-loved pet is the hardest choice caring owners have to make, not least because our own sense of loss mingles with the knowledge that we are saving our animals from suffering.
As veterinary surgeons, our knowledge of how a disease is likely to progress is crucial in helping owners to arrive at the right decision, but often the assessment of an animal’s quality of life is quite subjective.
We tend to see our patients out of their home environment, where a bit of adrenaline surging through the system can make it look as though they are coping better than they actually are.
In such situations your own observations can provide vital clues to guide us.
I find that owners are often instinctively aware when the time is right, because they are familiar with their pet’s normal behaviour and can sense when they are becoming more withdrawn and ceasing to be animated by activities such as feeding and walking which previously gave them pleasure.
That partnership between vet and owner, pooling knowledge to arrive at the best decision for your pet, which is central to so much of what we do, is never more important than at the end of an animal’s life.
And although we are professionals who have seen it all before, it doesn’t mean that sometimes we don’t get a bit choked up ourselves.
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